Soviets of People's Deputies

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Soviets of People’s Deputies


(formerly, Soviets of Working People’s Deputies), in the USSR, elected representative bodies of state power. According to Article 2 of the Constitution of the USSR, “All power in the USSR belongs to the people. The people exercise state power through soviets of people’s deputies, which constitute the political foundation of the USSR. All other state bodies are under the control of, and are accountable to, the soviets of people’s deputies.” The soviets of working people’s deputies are “the foundation of the socialist state and the fullest embodiment of its democratic character” (Material XXIV s”ezda KPSS, 1971, p.77).

V. I. Lenin declared the soviet a new political form for the organization of the toiling masses in the struggle for proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, a form that under Russian conditions was the most progressive and democratic form for the organization of the political power of the working class and all working people in the major cities and in the provinces. Lenin revealed and provided scientific substantiation for the class essence of the soviets, characterizing them as the foundation of a new, socialist type of state, a state that ensured the sovereignty of the working people.

The soviets emerged from the revolutionary ferment of the masses in the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia, springing up as bodies for the leadership of the workers’ strike movement and functioning as the rudimentary organs of a new, revolutionary power—the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. At the height of the revolution, certain soviets assumed the leadership of the armed uprising.

One of the first soviets was the soviet of deputies (Sovet upolnomochennykh), formed in May 1905 by striking workers in Ivanovo-Voznesensk. In the fall of 1905, soviets of workers’ deputies sprang up in many cities and workers’ settlements. In Moscow a soviet of soldiers’ deputies was organized alongside the soviet of workers. In Chita, soviets of soldiers’ and cossack deputies sprang up, and in Sevastopol’, soviets of sailors’, soldiers’, and workers’ deputies. In certain rural localities—for example, in Tver’ Province—soviets of peasants’ deputies arose; in other rural areas, especially in Latvia and Georgia, newly formed peasant committees performed the same functions as the soviets. By mid-November 1905, the St. Petersburg soviet of workers’ deputies numbered 562 deputies. The St. Petersburg soviet included representatives of the Bolsheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s), and Mensheviks. It was initially dominated by the petit bourgeois parties, who viewed the soviets not as militant revolutionary organizations of the masses but as bodies of local self-government. As a result, the St. Petersburg soviet was in no position to stand at the head of an armed uprising. The Moscow soviet of workers’ deputies was dominated by the Bolsheviks and was thus able to lead the workers of Moscow, whose struggle touched off the December armed uprising.

In the 62 soviets that arose during the revolution, the Bolsheviks headed and held an influence over 47, the Mensheviks ten, and the SR’s one. The Bolsheviks formed the core of the soviets in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Kostroma, Ekaterinburg, Samara, Chita, Krasnoiarsk, Motovilikha (near Perm’), and elsewhere. Bolshevik-led soviets acted as bodies of revolutionary power. With the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–1907, the soviets came to an end.

The experience of the soviets of 1905–07 was of enormous significance in the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917 and in the Great October Socialist Revolution. During the February Revolution of 1917, the soviets, which sprang up everywhere, were the bodies of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. In contrast to 1905, combined soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies were established. Soviets of peasants’ deputies also arose at the provincial, district, and volost (small rural district) levels. On the fronts, soldiers’ committees, elected for various units at various levels—regiment, division, corps, army, front, and others—were the military’s equivalent of the soviets. In Middle Asia, soviets of Muslim workers’ deputies appeared as early as the summer of 1917; working closely with the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, they represented the proletariat, urban poor, and artisans of the indigenous nationalities.

In March 1917, in provincial and district capitals and industrial centers alone, there were about 600 soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies. On the eve of the October Revolution, there were 1,429 soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies, 33 soviets of soldiers’ deputies, and 455 soviets of peasants’ deputies. Deputies were elected at general workers’ meetings in enterprises and at soldiers’ meetings in military units, and volost and village soviets were elected at peasant assemblies.

On Feb. 27, 1917, the first soviet was established—the Petrograd soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies—which was in effect an all-Russian soviet. The Mensheviks and SR’s seized the leadership in the Petrograd soviet, as they did in the overwhelming majority of the country’s soviets. The Bolshevik Party was crippled by savage police terror, whereas the Mensheviks and the SR’s took a “defensist” stance and found themselves in comparatively favorable circumstances. As the composition of the working class changed—that is, as peasants and petit bourgeois took the places of cadre workers sent to the front—and as the petit bourgeois strata of the populace were drawn into political activity, the SR’s and Mensheviks gained a growing influence over the masses.

The procedure by which the soviets were formed affected the Soviet’s composition. Large plants elected one deputy for every 1,000 workers, and small plants one deputy for every enterprise. The soviets immediately began to act on behalf of the working people, acting side by side with and in defiance of the bourgeois Provisional Government. Lenin, in the April Theses, concluded that it was imperative to establish a republic of soviets in Russia, which would be the state form in which the dictatorship of the proletariat would take shape; accordingly, he proclaimed the slogan “All power to the soviets!”

Between February and October 1917, the soviets passed through three stages of development. The first stage, from February to July, was characterized by dual power and the possibility of a peaceful transfer of all power to the soviets. During the July Days of 1917, however, the SR and Menshevik leaders of the soviets voluntarily relinquished power to the bourgeoisie, believing that the revolution in Russia could be no more than a bourgeois revolution; they viewed the soviets as temporary organizations, needed only until the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks, who were doing political work on an enormous scale among the masses and unmasking the treachery of the conciliators (those opposed to the class struggle), undertook to win a majority in the soviets and establish the undivided power of the soviets.

In the second stage—after the July crisis, when all power passed to the bourgeoisie—dual power came to an end. The peaceful transfer of power to the soviets became an impossibility, since the soviets had been turned into an appendage of the bourgeois Provisional Government. The Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B), on Lenin’s motion, temporarily withdrew the slogan “All power to the soviets!” and turned the party and working class toward preparation of an armed uprising against the Provisional Government.

The third stage lasted from the suppression of the Kornilov revolt in September to the victory of the October Revolution. Revolutionary momentum grew as the struggle against the Kornilov revolt moved forward, and the soviets increasingly came under the sway of the Bolsheviks, whom the working people elected to replace the discredited SR’s and Mensheviks. On August 31 (September 13) the Petrograd soviet and on September 5 (18) the Moscow soviet adopted Bolshevik resolutions on power. New elections to the soviets commenced in the provinces, with the Bolsheviks winning the majority in the soviets. The party again raised the cry “All power to the soviets!”, which now meant the transfer of power to the Bolshevik soviets by means of armed uprising and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

With the triumph of the October Revolution, the Leninist idea of a republic of soviets had come to fruition. By resolution of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, all power in the country passed to the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies, which under the leadership of the Communist Party became the political mainstay of the socialist state of workers and peasants. The Soviet republic was the state form in which the dictatorship of the proletariat took shape, the form in which socialist statehood was embodied, and the highest type of democracy.

The soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies assumed power in the cities, and the soviets of peasants’ deputies, power in the countryside. The soviets in the countryside were bolshevized more slowly than those in the cities. In the autumn of 1917, most soviets of peasants’ deputies remained under SR influence—a fact that accounts for the composition of the Extraordinary All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, held from November 10 (November 23) to November 25 (December 8), and that of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, held from November 26 (December 9) to December 10 (23). At both congresses, however, the Bolsheviks, supported by the left SR’s, won recognition of all decrees of the Soviet regime and of the necessity of merging the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies. The Central Executive Committee of the soviets of peasants’ deputies merged with the Central Executive Committee of the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, and, in January 1918, the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies merged with the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. As a result, the local soviets followed suit more expeditiously. By March 1918, the process was essentially complete. A single system of soviets emerged, giving organizational expression to the highest principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat—the alliance of the working class and peasantry. After Jan. 15 (28), 1918, when the decree on creation of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was passed, the soviets were called soviets of workers’, peasants’, and Red Army deputies.

The hierarchy of soviets was first set forth systematically in the Constitution of the RSFSR of 1918, adopted by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets. It ranged from the All-Russian Congress of Soviets at the top, to congresses of soviets in oblasts, provinces, districts, and volosti, and to soviets of cities, settlements, and villages. Between congresses, the system of soviets comprised the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the RSFSR and the executive committees of the various soviets.

The right to vote and to hold office was enjoyed by all citizens of the RSFSR at least 18 years of age and engaged in socially useful labor, by soldiers, and by sailors regardless of religion, nationality, or place of residence. The stubborn resistance of the enemies of Soviet power made it necessary to deprive certain people of their voting rights—those who used hired labor in order to make a profit, those who lived off unearned income, private traders, monks, priests, former police employees and agents, former gendarmes, former agents of the Okhranka (tsarist secret police), members of the ruling house of Russia, the insane, the mentally ill, wards, and those convicted of mercenary and other ignominious crimes (see the Constitution of the RSFSR, 1918, art. 65).

The Communist Party provided leadership to the soviets by means of party factions established in all Soviet bodies. “The party must carry out its decisions,” stated a resolution of the Eighth Congress of the RCP(B), “through the soviet bodies, within the framework of the Soviet constitution. The party endeavors to direct the activity of the soviets but not to replace them” (KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh, 8th ed., vol. 2, 1970, p. 77).

The system of soviets developed in close association with the building of the multinational state. As autonomous republics and autonomous oblasts were formed in the RSFSR, their local soviets were linked together by congresses of soviets of the autonomies. In the sovereign soviet republics, such as the Ukraine and Byelorussia, the highest link in the system of soviets was the republic congress of soviets, which elected the central executive committee of the republic. The hierarchy of soviets of the national republics and oblasts ensures that the toiling masses of all nationalities participate directly and extensively in state administration.

The soviets proved to be a model for working people abroad. During the revolutionary fervor in Western Europe triggered by the October Revolution, the workers of Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia established organizations similar to the soviets. In the late 1920’s, soviets appeared in China. Lenin noted that the soviets’ international importance did not mean they had to be copied exactly elsewhere: “The soviet type is not yet soviets as they exist in Russia, but the soviet type is becoming international” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 38, p. 159).

With the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922, the system of soviets underwent several changes, changes that reflected the structure of the multinational Union state and that were fixed in the Constitution of the USSR of 1924 and in the constitutions of the Union republics. The All-Union Congress of Soviets was made the supreme body of state power; between congresses, the Central Executive Committee of the USSR was the supreme body. In the Union and autonomous republics, the congresses of soviets were made the supreme bodies of power, and between congresses, the central executive committees elected by the congresses. The local bodies of power were the congresses of soviets of the krais, oblasts, provinces, okrugs, districts, raions, and volosti, and between congresses, the respective executive committees. The peoples of the USSR—most for the first time in their history—created their own national statehood on the basis of the soviets. As administrative-territorial divisions were altered, the soviet bodies were restructured accordingly.

The soviets involved the broad masses in state and public work. The growing political activity on the part of the working people was shown clearly in elections to the soviets. In the 1930’s, as the private sector was abolished and as the electoral system grew more democratic, considerably fewer people were deprived of voting rights: in 1923, 8.2 percent of the city residents had no voting rights, and in 1934,2.4 percent. E. G. GIMPEL’SON

The Soviet Constitution of 1936, adopted by the Extraordinary Eighth Congress of Soviets of the USSR, mirrored the social and economic changes resulting from socialist construction subsequent to the adoption of the Soviet Constitution of 1924. The Constitution of 1936 defined a new system of bodies of state power in the center and in the provinces and transformed the soviets of workers’, peasants’, and Red Army deputies into soviets of working people’s deputies. The new system drew its inspiration from the moral-political unity of Soviet society, which consisted of the labor intelligentsia and two fraternal classes—the working class and the kolkhoz peasantry. Since there were no longer exploiting classes in the USSR, all restrictions on voting rights were lifted, and universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage was introduced. All soviets are elected directly by the voters according to norms of representation established by the Constitution and by the Statute on Elections to the Soviets.

In essence, the soviets are profoundly international state organizations, which link the common interests of the Soviet people as a whole with the specific national interests of the large and small nations and nationalities. They reflect the socialist democratism of the Soviet state system primarily because, from top to bottom, they are elected on the basis of a consistently democratic electoral law, which confers upon the voters the constitutionally guaranteed right to recall deputies unworthy of the public trust. All soviets are elected by universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage—the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the supreme soviets of the Union and autonomous republics for five years, and the local soviets for two-and-a-half years. The soviets as a whole and their deputies and executive committees are also required to make systematic reports on their work to the people. Such systematic accountability is but a single proof of the bond between the soviets and the working people and of the working people’s greater control over the work of the soviets. Finally, the democratism of the soviets is manifested in the kinds of work they do, such as preparation for sessions, monitoring of the implementation of the decisions adopted, and the various activities of the soviets’ permanent commissions, the deputies’ councils and groups.

The soviets make up a single system, from the soviets of villages and settlements at the bottom to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR at the top. The legal status, competence, and responsibility of each soviet are varied. The Supreme Soviet of the USSR is the highest representative body of the entire Soviet nation and the sole legislative body of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The supreme soviets of the Union and autonomous republics are the highest bodies of state power in these republics, and they accordingly exercise the full panoply of power within their respective territories. The local soviets are bodies of state power in the administrative-territorial units—krais, oblasts, autonomous oblasts, okrugs, raions, cities, large villages (sela), stanitsy (large cossack villages), villages (derevni), khutora (farmsteads), kishlaki (settlements in Uzbekistan and Turkestan), and auly (villages in the Caucasus). They direct cultural and political work and economic construction, draw up the local budget, supervise subordinate administrative bodies, guarantee the state and public order, help strengthen defense capabilities, and ensure observance of the laws and protection of the rights of citizens.

The specific powers of each link in the hierarchy of local soviets are defined in greater detail by decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and by special laws adopted by the Union and autonomous republics: namely, by the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR On the Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Village and Settlement Soviets of Working People’s Deputies’ (1968; with amendments and additions, 1978), On the Fundamental Rights and Duties of the City and City Raion Soviets of Working People’s Deputies (1971), and On the Fundamental Rights and Duties of Raion Soviets of Working People’s Deputies (1971; with amendments and additions, 1979), the Law of the USSR on the Status of Deputies to the Soviets of Working People’s Deputies in the USSR (1971; with amendments and additions, 1979), and the laws promulgated by the Union and autonomous republics on the basis of the aforementioned decrees and law. All these normative acts provide for improvement in the forms of the soviets’ organizational work and for expansion of the soviets’ powers; for example, the enterprises and institutions that serve primarily a given area are considered to be within the jurisdiction of raion and city soviets.

The local soviets perform their functions within the organizational forms established by law, primarily at the session of the soviet—the general assembly of deputies, convened by the soviets’ executive and administrative organs at specified intervals and in a manner established by law. At its sessions, the soviet reviews and resolves all questions within its competence, especially those within its exclusive competence, such as the verification of the deputies’ credentials, the election of the executive committee and new members of the committee, the formation of administrative commissions, commissions on juvenile affairs, oversight commissions, and other commissions, and the ratification of the Soviet’s budget and accountability for budget implementation. The appropriate executive committees convene the soviets of oblasts, krais, and cities with raions at least four times a year, and the soviets of raions, cities without raions, city raions, large villages, and settlements at least six times a year. The appropriate executive organs can convene extraordinary sessions of the soviets on their own initiative, on the demand of one-third of the deputies, or on the suggestion of higher soviets. Two-thirds of the deputies of a soviet constitute a quorum; a simple majority of deputies present is sufficient to decide a vote.

For preliminary review and preparation of questions within the soviets’ competence and for active cooperation in the implementation of the soviets’ decisions, the soviets form, for the duration of their term, permanent commissions of deputies. The responsibilities of such commissions include the development of proposals for review by the soviet and its executive committee and the preparation of recommendations on questions introduced for the consideration of the soviet and its executive committee. They also include supervision of the section and boards of the executive committee, enterprises, institutions, and organizations with respect to implementation of the decisions of the soviets and higher state organs and with respect to the observance of soviet legislation, organizational assistance, and monitoring of the fulfillment of the voters’ mandate. The soviet itself determines what commissions it will form. In the RSFSR, for example, a raion soviet forms a mandates commission, a planning and budget commission, a commission on socialist legality and protection of public order, a commission on youth, a commission on environmental improvement and protection, a commission on working and living conditions for women and on mother and child welfare, and—taking local conditions into account—commissions on individual branches of social and cultural work and economic construction.

The local Soviet’s executive and administrative body is the executive committee, elected from among the Soviet’s deputies and composed of a chairman, deputy chairman, secretary, and other members; the soviet itself determines the size of the executive committee. The executive committees of soviets in the krais, oblasts, autonomous oblasts, okrugs, raions, cities, and villages are directly accountable to the respective soviets and to the executive committees of higher soviets. In discharging its responsibilities, the executive committee has the right to promulgate decisions and decrees on all questions within its competence.

The CPSU devotes unceasing attention to improving the work of the soviets and augmenting their role in communist construction while at the same time stepping up the soviets’ activity and strengthening the soviets’ ties with the masses. The Central Committee of the CPSU points out to party and soviet organs the necessity of full support for the initiatives of the soviets’ deputies and the necessity of a greater sense of responsibility on the part of the deputies for adherence to the populace’s mandates and suggestions. The soviets confront the task of meeting their responsibilities even more fully, of bringing their influence to bear on economic and cultural development and improvement in the nation’s standard of living, and of dealing more assiduously with the social and everyday needs of the populace and with the protection of public order.

In the current stage of communist construction, the soviets are the bodies of state power for the state of the whole people. They characteristically maintain close ties with the masses, whom they involve in the affairs of state and society. This entails a progressive expansion of the social foundation of the state power of the entire Soviet nation, an increased role for the soviets, and the soviets’ utmost devotion to the responsibilities incumbent on them as genuine people’s bodies of state power.



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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.